Jobs: Career Strategies for Students and Recent Graduates in GIS
What Students and Recent Graduates Can Do
Relating to another article I wrote, called “Career Challenges for Students and Recent Graduates in GIS“, I drew awareness to the problem that in the fast-paced, unstable, and constantly changing job market that exists today, young people in GIS and many other disciplines are having difficulty becoming established in their careers. So if you are new to your field, how do you succeed in a technology career such as GIS?
The ‘soft’ or transferable skills are probably the most important things taken away from school, particularly from university. University teaches you to adapt to different situations, how to learn, critical thinking, and how to find information, and these are perhaps far more important than the ‘hard’ skills or course content learned in university. People skills learned in university are equally important: how to communicate different kinds of ideas both orally and in written form, how to relate to different kinds of people, and how to work together with people who may be different from you in different types of situations. Problem-solving skills are also learned from going through university, and they are also very useful in any career. In addition, being able to produce deliverables within given deadlines, and being able to manage more than one task at a given time are also valuable skills that can be taken away from school, especially university.
Learning to be flexible and adapt is also a critical skill for success in any career. GIS in particular has a variety of skill sets and is applied in many different ways. For example, with a programming or coding focus, there are plenty of GIS opportunities doing software and app development. But that’s not all you can do with GIS training. Data management, remote sensing, mapping, data and spatial analysis, surveying, and CADD are examples of different applications and specializations within GIS. Because GIS is applied in many different ways and is not industry-specific, the different possibilities and directions of a GIS career are quite numerous. The nature of GIS work is completely different in different industries, and a career path in GIS applied in forestry, for example, will look quite different from GIS applied to mining, and will also require different skill sets from GIS applied to different levels of government. Learning to think outside of the box and to market your skill sets for a variety of jobs without selling yourself short is very important to survive in a changing world. The experience in even unrelated jobs often can be applied to a completely different kind of job, and how you market your skills can be the difference between career survival and failure.
Personal skills such as perseverance and patience, combined with a positive attitude, are also very important qualities needed to succeed in one’s career. Learning what is in your control and what is not (for example, a slow market) can really help empower you and help you maintain your motivation in continuing a GIS career. Managing expectations and making them more realistic is also necessary, and accepting that the nature of the work landscape faced by Generations Y and Z is completely different than what previous generations faced–it is certainly much more unstable and jobs are much shorter-term than in the past, and it is not realistic to expect to become established as quickly as the older generations did–helps to maintain hope and prevent disappointment. It may take time to find the kind of job you’re looking for, and you may have to do something temporarily unrelated while waiting for the right opportunity to arise, but don’t give up on pursuing your career direction. At the same time, be willing to consider jobs that are tangent to your target career goal, because those jobs may end up shaping your career and you may end up doing things you never thought you could get into. Always keep your mind open and be willing to learn and try new things.
Networking and building relationships are perhaps the most fundamental parts of career success. Meeting as many contacts in the GIS/technology sector as possible and keeping in touch with those contacts can lead to the creation of jobs that don’t get advertised publicly. You can learn plenty of valuable information from others as well, and often help and advice comes from people you’d least expect, so it is important to constantly work at building and maintaining these relationships and staying on good terms with others (read this article for more tips). As a student, taking any opportunities to link with industry seriously can also give you an edge later on, especially during the most difficult time of finding your first job after graduation. GoGeomatics also offers social networking events in larger Canadian cities–this is listed on their web site under Jobs & Events and is worth looking into. Once you become known as a regular in any group, people really notice that kind of dedication also, and it will really help you down the road.
It is also important to note that in each city, the business culture that exists is different. It is necessary to find and become familiar with the various resources that may be available in your city for networking and job finding, as well as events like job fairs and public talks. It’s not just a matter of applying general rules for all regions, but to also understand how the business community works in your city. If you live in a small community, the reality is that you may need to be willing to relocate to where the work is, although I acknowledge that not everyone is able or willing to do so. It certainly gives a leading edge for those who are able to move around.
How Schools and Industry Can Help Students and Recent Graduates
Certainly, there are also things that can be done by schools and industries to help bridge the gap between academia and the work world, and properly match the right skill sets with corresponding jobs. All programs and initiatives from industry that offer a chance to expose students to industry are already part of the solution (including school initiatives like co-op programs) and there needs to be a continuing effort and development of these opportunities. Professors and school instructors can place more emphasis on the importance of these kinds of programs and make industry exposure a mandatory part of school programs. In addition, they need to build a stronger relationship with people in industry in order to remain well-informed about industry trends. Raising awareness to students of just what they can do with their training and degrees can help students to break out of the boxed mindset, and an increased emphasis on skill sets and marketing transferrable skills could be incorporated into university programs.
Industry also needs to step up to help resolve these challenges. People who know the business and the technical parts of a given job should always be involved in the hiring process to properly assess skill sets and recognize the potential of candidates, particularly with regard to young people new to industry who need a bit of help entering a field and getting established. There also needs to be more incentive to hire young and new talent in GIS and technology sectors, especially incentive to encourage companies to be more willing to train them and invest in their futures. As the demographics of working age people continue to change and more young people enter the work force, there will be a much greater need for companies to be willing to work with younger and less experienced people as they will have to make do with fewer older and more experienced workers to replace those who are retiring.
In summary, in our modern, fact-paced and changing world, there continue to be challenges for students and recent graduates pursuing GIS and other technology careers. For the professional new to industry, survival means being resourceful, not giving up, managing expectations, being open-minded, and being able to adapt and learn new skill sets to fit the needs of industry. It is also necessary to understand the business community and culture in a given geographic region and adapt to it, as well as building a solid network of career contacts. In addition, schools and industry must do their part and work together towards better preparing students for industry and help them succeed.